Why Yoga for anxiety relief?
Yoga functions like other stress-relieving methods such as meditation, breathing exercises, or socializing. Various of a wide range of yoga practices have suggested that they could be helpful for relieving anxiety and depression by reducing the impact of your body’s stress responses.
In this article, we explore a simple yet powerful 45 minute yoga sequence (covering 14 yoga poses) and how they can help you to calm down and feel grounded.
When performing the yoga poses, try to stay in each pose for 8 breaths or more. Take deep, slow breaths into your belly and not just your chest. Focus on your breath until you feel better.
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Benefits: Sometimes called “simple cross-legged position”, Sukhasana is usually used as the starting position of an asana, meditation or pranayama practice. It helps to open up the hips, lengthens the spine, and increases inner calm.
Practising Sukhasana helps to relieve stress and anxiety symptoms as it helps you rest and removes physical and inner exhaustion.
How to do Easy Pose:
- Come to sit on the mat, feet on the mat.
- Cross your shins and widening your knees to the mat, allowing each foot to come under the opposite knee.
- Relax the feet so that their outer edges are touching the floor comfortably.
- Ground your sitting bones and extend your spine, keeping your back straight.
- Firm your shoulder blades to the back ribs, relax your arms and face.
- Your hands can be on your knees (palms up or down) or placed at the heart centre in Namaskara / Anjali Mudra.
- If you are unable to relax your knees, try to place a block or rolled-up towel under each knee for better support.
- If you find your back aching or rounding, you can place a cushion under the hips to allow the spine to return to a neutral position.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Sanskrit: Nadi Shodhana
Benefits: Nadi Shodhana is a great way to prepare the mind and body for your yoga practice. It helps to reduce your pulse rate and respiratory rate, and improve cardiovascular health.
More importantly, Nadi Shodhana balances the activity between your left and right nostrils, allowing your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to come into equilibrium. This helps to decrease overactive stress responses so that anxiety-prone people will not overreact to stress stimuli.
How to do Alternate Nostril Breathing:
- Come into a comfortable seated position on the mat or on a chair. Take three long and deep breaths through your nose.
- Focus on the present and tune in to your breath.
- Once you feel comfortable, bring your right thumb to close your right nostril, and inhale through your left nostril.
- Then close your left nostril with your ring finger and release your right nostril and exhale through your right nostril.
- Inhale again from the right then switch sides.
- Repeat this for 10 times.
Cat and cow
Sanskrit: Marjaryasana (cat) and Bitilasana (cow)
Benefits: Cat-cow poses help to increase spinal flexibility and release tension from your chest, especially when you are feeling stressed and anxious.
How to do Cat and Cow pose
- Come to a tabletop position on your hands and knees, placing your knees directly under your hips and hands below your shoulders.
- Gaze slightly ahead of your palms, keeping your neck neutral.
- Exhale and tuck your tailbone in, rounding your spine and push against the mat to stretch the muscles between the shoulders.
- Release your neck and look towards your navel. This is Cat pose.
- Inhale to return to tabletop or move directly into Cow pose. In Cow pose, lift your tailbone and chest up towards the ceiling.
- Sink your belly to the floor and lift your head to look forward or up. This is Cow pose.
- Alternate between Cat and Cow pose, following your breath as you move and stretch the front and back of your body.
Related: How to do Cat-Cow pose correctly
Sanskrit: Uttana Shishosana
Benefits: Extended puppy pose helps to relieve tension from the spine and shoulders, great for people who tend to hold tension in the upper back. This pose is therapeutic for relieving stress, anxiety, chronic tension, panic attacks and insomnia.
How to do Extended Puppy pose:
- Start in tabletop, pointing the toes and allowing the tops of the feet to rest on the mat.
- Walk your hands forward, keeping the hips up while bringing the chest and forehead to the ground. Keep your arms active, do NOT drop your elbows to the ground.
- Your lower back should have a slight curve as you point the sitting bones to the ceiling, but it should not be overarched. Feel the stretch through your chest and entire spine.
- Pull your hips toward the knees and stretch through your arms.
- Breathe deeply and hold the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Then walk your hands back, bring your hips to your heels to lift your body out of the pose.
Wide Knee Child’s pose
Sanskrit: Utthita Balasana
Benefits: Child’s pose is one of the most fundamental yoga poses to help you relax and ease stress. It can also have a rejuvenating effect on the body as it helps to relieve physical pain from back and neck tension.
How to do Wide Knee Child’s Pose:
- Kneel on the floor, opening your knees wider than hip-width but keeping your big toes touching.
- Sit back on your heels and exhale as you fold from your hips to bring your chest down between your thighs.
- Extend your hands forward and try to walk them as far away from the body as possible. Lengthen the back of your neck and your entire spine.
- Rest your forehead to the ground and just relax, breathing in deeply for around 10 breaths or more before releasing from the pose.
Downward Facing Dog
Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Benefits: Downward Facing Dog is a mild inversion where your head is below your heart, allowing you to release tension in your entire body while also calming your brain and relieving stress.
How to do Downward Facing Dog:
- Start in plank position, shoulders above palms.
- Exhale and lift your hips upwards and lengthen the tailbone.
- Keep lifting the hips until you form a triangle pose, with your hips forming the highest point of your body.
- Spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out and press firmly onto the mat. As you push through your shoulders, widen your shoulder blades and draw them back towards your tailbone.
- If your body is not warmed up or you have tight feet and calf muscles, keep the knees slightly bent and the heels do not need to touch the floor.
- Hold for 5-10 breaths.
- Look forward, inhale and walk or float to the top of the mat, coming into standing Mountain pose.
Benefits: Mountain Pose is the starting point of all standing asanas. It is a great posture for anxiety relief as it helps to ground you down and creates a stable foundation for other standing asanas.
How to do Mountain Pose:
- Start in a standing position, with your legs hip-width apart.
- If you have the balance, you may choose to keep your feet touching together.
- Look down at your feet and check that your toes are pointing forward. Press your weight evenly across the balls and arches of your feet.
- Keep your pelvis neutral, lengthen your spine with an inhale.
- Lift and broaden your chest while drawing your shoulder blades lightly down and against your back ribs.
Standing forward fold
Benefits: Forward bending yoga poses encourage you to relax into the pose as you draw your senses inwards. They help to sooth the nerves which are in overdrive, and create a quiet space for you to tune in to yourself.
In Light on Yoga, one of the classic yoga texts, BKS Iyengar states that when you perform standing forward fold, “the heart beats are slowed down and the spinal nerves rejuvenated. Any depression felt in the mind is removed if one holds the pose for two minutes or more”.
How to do Standing Forward Fold
- Stand in Mountain pose, facing the front of your mat with your feet hip-width apart
- Place your hands on your hips
- Exhale and hinge at the hips to fold forward, keeping a slight bend in your knees.
- Place your palms on the mat or rest them on yoga blocks. If this feels challenging, feel free to place your hands on your thighs or shins.
- Keep your spine and back long. Try not to tuck your chin to chest but keep the head heavy toward the floor, looking at your toes or in front of your feet
- Hold this pose for up to one minute.
Benefits: Standing balances such as Tree Pose require your full presence, helping you to stay focused and calms down the busy mind. Tree pose is great for building a strong and steady mind so that you can feel more in control of your emotions.
How to do Tree Pose:
- Start in a standing position
- Slowly lift your right knee to your chest
- Externally rotate the knee to the right and place your right foot to the inner left thigh, calf or ankle
- Bring your hands into prayer position at heart centre, or if you feel steady enough, extend them up
- Fix your gaze on a single point in front of you to stay balanced
- Hold for 5-8 breaths before coming back to Mountain Pose
- Switch sides
Benefits: Triangle pose is great for relieving tension in the neck and back, allowing us to feel more balanced and centred, as well as alleviating anxiety and depression.
How to do Triangle Pose:
- Stand at the top of your mat in Mountain pose
- Step your left leg back, around 3-4 feet apart
- Stretch your arms to the side, palms facing the ground and shoulders relaxed
- Ensure your left foot faces the back of the mat, and the right towards the long edge of the mat
- Keep your body facing the long side of the mat
- Exhale to fold at your hip towards your left leg
- Reach your left hand towards your shin, on a block or on the mat
- Raise your right hand towards the ceiling
- Keep both sides of the body long, try not to crunch into the left side
- Look straight ahead or look up towards your right hand
- Stay for 5-8 breaths before coming back to mountain pose
- Switch sides
Benefits: Camel pose helps improve blood circulation throughout the body, increasing supply of oxygen to heal the mind and body, and relieving stress and anxiety. This pose is also a backbend, which helps to open the heart chakra and releasing pent up emotions.
How to do Camel Pose:
- Kneel on the floor with knees hip-width apart
- Gently engage your glutes, pressing the tops of your feet and shins on the mat
- Place your hands at the back of your hips
- Inhale and start to lift your chest and heart upwards, rolling your shoulder blades back and down
- Press your pelvis forward with the support of your hands
- Stay here, or if you are ready to go deeper, bring your hands to touch the backs of your feet
- Continue to press the hips and thighs forward
- Stay for 5-8 breaths
- Inhale to lift your body up
- Exhale and return to Child’s Pose for a few breaths
Sanskrit: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Benefits: Bridge pose is a mild inversion, allowing the heart to be higher than the head. This helps to calm the central nervous system, improve relaxation as the brain is calmer with the influx of fresh oxygen, alleviates stress and relieves anxiety. Similar to Camel Pose, it also opens the heart chakra and expands the front of the body for greater emotional release.
How to do Bridge Pose:
- Lie face up with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart
- Ensure that your heels are directly under the knees, and point your big toes to the front of the mat instead of diagonally to the side
- Place your arms beside your body, palms down
- Inhale and press on your heels; Lift your hips toward the ceiling until the thighs are almost parallel to the floor
- Press on your arms
- For a deeper stretch, roll your shoulders outward, externally rotate them and clasp your hands below your hips; Press through your shoulders to lift your hips even higher
- Lift the chin away from the chest
- Hold for 8-12 breaths
- Exhale and release your hands, then roll your spine back to the mat
Legs up the wall
Sanskrit: Viparita Karani
Benefits: “Legs up the wall” is a fully supported yoga pose and is possibly one of the most effective poses to calm a busy mind and nerves. Do this before bedtime to allow you to feel supported, relaxed and centered and fall asleep faster.
How to do Legs Up the Wall:
- Place your hips against a wall, then exhale to lie down onto your back
- Straighten your legs against the wall.
- You do not need to press your sit bones against the wall, but try to get them as close to the wall as possible
- If you need to adjust your angle, place your feet flat against the wall, lift your pelvis and make your adjustment
- Your hands can stay beside your body or rest on your stomach
- Stay here for 10 breaths or up to 20 minutes
Benefits: This pose is one of the most popular and important yoga poses for relieving anxiety, stress and depression symptoms. Although Savasana seems easy, simply lying still on the floor is a struggle for some people as relaxation does not happen on demand.
However, once you have mastered Savasana, it is very rewarding as you will notice immediate effects on your breathing, state of mind, concentration, and level of anxiety. You will also learn to relax faster, as Savasana helps to train your body to tune in and focus on the inner self instead of external stimuli.
Savasana can be done as the final pose to your yoga session or anytime of the day whenever you need to recharge your body.
How to do Savasana:
- Start by lying flat on your back, keeping your legs around mat-width apart (but not wider)
- Keep your arms at your sides
- Externally rotate your shoulders, allowing your palms to face upward
- Keep your eyes closed, relax your face, and focus on breathing deeply
- Allow your mind to focus on each part of your body, starting from your feet and work your way up to the crown of your head
- Stay here for three to five minutes.
If you are prone to anxiety and would like to practise this sequence regularly, we have this guide in a printable yoga poster together with the full guidelines on our shop. Check it out below.
The YogaMad is founded by Candy, an avid yogini who is passionate about inspiring others to live their best lives while finding mind-body-soul balance. She has a background in business consulting but has left the corporate world in her quest to live out her dreams as a yoga nomad.